Advocates Want Statewide Smoking Ban To Protect Children
A bill (HB173) that proposes a statewide smoke-free law in public places awaits a vote in the Kentucky House, and supporters are urging lawmakers to think about what it could do for children's health.
According to Dr. Bethany Hodge, a pediatrician, secondhand smoke is a common trigger of asthma attacks.
"It may not be the worst trigger that they have in their whole list of things that cause them problems, but there's no kid that is going to benefit at all from being around second-hand smoke, and all asthmatics do seem to be affected negatively by second-hand smoke," Hodge said.
When the state's first local smoke-free ordinance went into effect in Lexington ten years ago, emergency room visits for asthma among children dropped by 18 percent, according to a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Only about a third of Kentucky's 4 million-plus people are now protected by a hodgepodge of local smoke-free ordinances. Although Russellville doesn't have a smoking ban in public places, the owner of the Granny's Kitchen restaurant there, James Whittinghill, went smoke-free January 1.
Whittinghill called that a huge health benefit, both for his workers and customers.
"I read some information that the Health Department gave me that [said] if you were in a working environment of smoke, you know, where you had to breathe smoke eight hours a day, it was the same as smoking a pack of cigarettes yourself," Whittinghill said.
Whittinghill said his lunch crowd has doubled since he banned smoking, and other restaurants in town have followed suit. The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce is pushing for a statewide smoke-free law because its member businesses support the idea.
Dr. Hodge, of the University of Louisville and Kosair Children's Hospital, said pediatricians and others who work with children see themselves as advocates for those who don't have their own voices in the political process. So, she's sending a simple message to Kentucky lawmakers about the smoke-free bill.
"We feel like if children had the ability to say what was important to them, that this would be on their list; that they would feel better and be healthier if they weren't in an environment with smoke,” Hodge said.
She pointed out that smoke also affects unborn children, raising the risks of low birth-weight and of diseases later in life.
The smoke-free bill passed in the House Health and Welfare Committee Feb. 6. Since then, five potential amendments have been filed, including ones by the bill's sponsors to exempt cigar bars and private clubs, and two that would exempt so-called electronic cigarettes from the ban.